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Drugged Operation

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The LAUSD is set to re-evaluate a program that allows undercover cops to pose as students in order to bust student drug dealers. The School Buy program has come under fire because of questions concerning its fairness and effectiveness. Critics question whether or not serious offenders are being targeted, particularly citing the rise in the number of special education students being expelled because of offenses related to the program.

"Special-education students made up about 15% of the 191 students referred for expulsion this year, roughly the same percentage of special-education students in the district high schools.

'We're finding that more and more special-education kids are being caught," said Fonna Bishop, principal of Hollywood High School, where about a third of the students caught this year were in special education. "These are young people who have problems, learning disabilities, emotional trouble. They want to make friends, they want to be cool. They don't think about consequences.'"

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There are other concerns beside special education, as well:

"The school district's review of the program was sparked in part by the large number of students being recommended for expulsion for selling minor quantities of drugs, school officials said. The bigger pushers, some educators believe, evade being caught.

Over the last five years, the unit's work has resulted in the expulsion of 567 students, school district records show. Those students also face felony criminal charges.

'A lot of these kids are doing a friend a favor, being the in-between person,' said Linda Wilson, who for a decade has coordinated Los Angeles Unified's Student Discipline Proceedings Unit. 'Some just made a stupid mistake. Some are lonely and just trying to make friends. Not many of them are the hard-core drug dealers. I don't know that it does much to decrease drugs on campus.'

Drug availability in Los Angeles schools has remained largely unchanged over the last seven years, according to a recent survey by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study found that of students asked, 37.5% said they had been offered, sold or given an illegal drug on school property in the last 12 months, compared with 27.8% nationally. The Los Angeles number has changed little since 1997, when 36.2% reported being offered."